PhotoVoice exhibit displays issue of mental health

From the outside looking in it seems so hard; your palms sweat, your hands shake and you feel nervous. But once you start, once you break the internal tension, it’s easy. Your knees begin to strengthen up and you begin to focus and find your flow. You’re probably thinking I’m talking about the feeling you get before you go on stage before a rap battle, I’m not. I’m talking about the feeling you get when you approach a stranger for the first time.

In theory it seems easy to be friendly with everybody and to get to know people throughout your different daily environments, but most of the time its not. It can be difficult for people to step out of their comfort zones, but sometimes it’s necessary so that individuals can feel welcomed and supported here on campus.

This idea and many more were discussed at the PhotoVoice exhibit on Tuesday, March 22. Eastern Michigan University’s Greek community, the Wellness Center and the Active Minds organization teamed up to put together one of the most touching PhotoVoice exhibits this campus has seen. For the past six years, a committee has met to discuss potential themes the PhotoVoice exhibit will cover, and this year the theme of mental health was selected.

“We need to talk about mental health within the community, so we agreed it was a great idea, and that mental health is a very prevalent topic,” said Tasha Lonabarger, Vice President of Scholarships within the Greek council at EMU.

PhotoVoice is a global organization that holds a platform of creating a world in which no one is denied the opportunity to speak out and be heard. Many different organizations partner with PhotoVoice to continue to extend that message. EMU has held a PhotoVoice exhibit for the past six years, tackling many issues such as alcohol and drug abuse and self-disclosure topics such as, “if you really knew me.”

“Our goal this year was to create momentum that inspired people to take action and do something. We wanted to put this together so people aren’t afraid to say that they struggle with this issue. We are fighting the negative stigma, so people know they aren’t alone,” said Kathryn Walz, director of EMU’s Wellness Center.

The photo novella was an exhibit featuring pictures and a dialogue describing ways to cope with mental issues. However, the discussion at the end was much more intimate where students had the opportunity to help think about ideas on how to help people get the support they need.

Many students expressed the need to reach out to people. Even if it doesn’t look like someone is in need of a compliment or a friendly gesture, they could actually use one.

“It’s easy to assume that everything is ok just looking at the outside, even though someone could be hurting on the inside,” said Dr. Sharon Carney of EMU's Counseling and Psychological services.

Eastern recently received a suicide prevention and mental health promotion grant through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These funds help the school continue working to bring awareness to mental health, and help power SAFE Now (Stigmas And Fear End Now), which is a campus-based program that assists with suicide prevention and more (

In past exhibits it was more manageable to make a change within just the Greek community, but because of the newfound resources and the partnership with Active Minds, it opened up the possibility of reaching more people. Due to the increase in resources and the extended collaborations the committee behind the PhotoVoice exhibit decided to extend participation campus wide, so anyone could contribute to the exhibit.

There are many resources on campus that can help someone cope with mental illness, depression and anxiety. The Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provide free counseling to registered EMU students. Organizations like SAFE Now and active minds provide diverse and active support groups for any student looking to reach out. We are reminded that mental health can play a huge factor in our wellness and is key to a healthy life.

“Mental health is health and wellness,” said Walz.

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